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West Ham failed Dimitri Payet by not building around him

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Many knew that West Ham had pulled off a coup by signing Dimitri Payet last summer, but it wasn’t clear until a year later what a rare gem they’d found.

After Payet’s stunning debut season in the Premier League, a season that saw him score nine goals and assist 12 more while dazzling England with his brilliant technical ability and sparkling distance shooting, he now finds himself suddenly unwelcome at the gates of West Ham’s new home.

With West Ham 13th in the Premier League table and struggling for consistency, Payet has stunned Hammer fans by refusing to play for the club and asking for a transfer.

From nearly all angles, this is a horrible look from a player who was rescued from Marseille by Slaven Bilic and brought back to life during his time at West Ham. It appears on the surface that the player has turned his back on a club and fanbase that embraced him when life was good. Bilic wasn’t even asked about Payet when he revealed the situation, he simply went off in a press conference, a rare situation that describes just how betrayed by Payet the manager feels.

But a deeper dive into West Ham’s recent past shows why Payet has become disenfranchised just half a season later and why the player may not be shouldering all the blame despite the ugly optics.

This summer, West Ham found itself the proud owner of a legitimate franchise player; a player who suddenly burdens the club with his own expectations. This is not to say Payet gave West Ham any sort of ultimatum, but in this situation, the Hammers now have the expectation to be good enough for such a player. It is the responsibility of the club to perform to the standards of the player, just as it is the responsibility of the player to bring the club his best. In short: they must build around their superstar. We see countless times a club’s best player leave because that club was either relegated or fell below the player’s ambitions.

Dimitri Payet proved last season that he’s better than 13th place in the Premier League, and he’s proving this season that despite the club’s struggles, he is still as good as he was. As a Player of the Season candidate, it’s obviously his responsibility to replicate that form, and he has, leading the Premier League in chances created and key passes and rated the 5th best player in the league by Squawka’s rankings.

Here is where West Ham failed the Frenchman: it is also on the club to provide him with the best environment to replicate that form. Let’s review the ways West Ham went about that process this past summer:

  • They purchased Andre Ayew for $26 million, by all accounts a solid purchase at the time – if not an expensive transaction – but one that has not paid off at all. Ayew has battled injuries and poor service to the return of a single goal in 12 appearances.
  • They spent $13 million on Manuel Lanzini, a player expected to pull some weight off Payet’s shoulders in the attack. Instead, he’s been a significant disappointment as well, dazzling the crowd at times, but coupling those performances with his fair share of horror shows.
  • West Ham spent $8 million on Arthur Makuatsu, a forced purchase after starting the season without a healthy left-back. Makuatsu was bad and then got hurt, and has made just six appearances thanks to the return of Aaron Cresswell.
  • They brought in Sofiane Feghouli, Alvaro Arbeloa, Ashley Fletcher, and Havard Nordveit on free transfers. Feghouli has been good at times but hasn’t been consistent enough to see the field, the 33-year-old Arbeloa has been hurt, Fletcher hasn’t made the squad, and Nordtveit has struggled with discipline.
  • They brought in Simone Zaza, Gokhan Tore, and Jonathan Calleri on loan. Zaza couldn’t even muster a single goal before getting hurt and wanting out, Tore was a solid get but got injured early, and Calleri hasn’t started once and hasn’t seen the field since October.

There’s no doubt the Hammers have had horrible injury luck this season, with Gokhan Tore’s knee operation maybe the most difficult to swallow, but the bottom line is this: the Hammers didn’t do nearly enough this summer to prove they mean business. While other clubs around them got better, West Ham instead looked for value buys and spent big on flops. Subsequently, they have felt the difficult consequences to their actions. The defense has been porous and the service up front has been limited. Dimitri Payet’s 72 chances created are an enormous 52 more than anyone else in the West Ham squad and represent 35% of the team’s total of 204. Simply put, it’s on Payet to do it all, and that’s why he wants out.

Make no mistake that Dimitri Payet’s decision to distance himself from West Ham still reflects poorly on his character. As the second time he’s pushed for a transfer away from a club of significant size (also pushing his way out of Marseille when West Ham came calling), this is clearly heavy baggage he is now forced to lug around the rest of his career. However, the club is not absolved of blame in this situation. Who knows what promises were made to Payet when he signed a contract extension this summer through the summer of 2021. With a new stadium meant to catapult West Ham “to the next level,” little attention was paid to the future product on the field. Fans should be just as disappointed with the board and staff as they are with the player.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

[ Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise ]

Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

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This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.